29th Jun 2007 | 14:07
A lot's been said (and written) of Starbreeze's gloriously dark action game based on the comic of the same name. Well, the final code has been with us for a while now and we're pleased to say it's well worth your full attention.
Starbreeze shot to glory with the awesome movie tie-in Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay. Visually it was doing the same as Doom 3, only Riddick beat id to the market. Unsurprisingly the first thing that strikes you about The Darkness is the incredibly detailed high-def world the Swedish dev has crafted. Let me say this now: it's one of the most cinematic experiences you'll have.
The take on areas such as New York and New Jersey is dark, dirty and gritty. It doesn't look like a nice place to go for a holiday. Streets and back alleys are draped with shadows, fizzing advertisement signs flicker above you and the distant sound of police sirens and gun fire floats through the air. And from the moment you start a new game you're hooked. The opening is fast, loud and guaranteed to slap a smile on your face.
Events start out in a similar fashion to most shooters; you assume the role of crack mafia hitman Jackie Estacado, who is having some HR issues with his uncle and the Franchetti crime family. So off you go to whack your uncle's henchmen. But to call The Darkness 'just another shooter' would be a huge injustice to the experience Starbreeze has crafted so well.
The characters are all excellently fleshed out, bringing with them not only unique personalities but strong ones - everyone's got an opinion on what's going on and tells it in a convincing way. The dialogue is straight out of the Sopranos and works perfectly. For once in a shooter the NPCs really do help drive the narrative forward.
Following the frantic opening you land a pair of pistols and get going. You initially start out as a normal human being but The Darkness quickly swoops into your system and mixes things up. It's not really explained why this happened to you until way further into the game, so remind yourself to stick with it. All becomes clear thanks to the brilliant way the story is told.
You need enough power to transform into the 'man with tentacles' and this is found in the shadows.
It's a good idea to shoot out most of the lights around you, even if this does become a bit tiresome after the thousandth time you shoot a light bulb to death. You can also level up your Darkness powers by hitting A and 'devouring' the hearts of your victims. The Darkness is only interested in nasty people though with true evil in their hearts, and some of the really evil buggers you come across are so evil they'll give you new Darkness powers.
The controls follow the FPS conventions (triggers for shooting, sticks for looking and walking etc) although they're not as tight as traditional shooters. But that's not the point because this isn't a traditional shooter - the way you move mimics the way a person walks, for example. Very quickly the twisted voice of The Darkness begins to whisper in you ears, voiced by Mike Patton, no less. Massive tentacles and two Alien-style heads stretch out of your body and become yours to control via the two Bumper buttons. Your aim has quite a heavy auto-targeting system in place that see red dots jump to nearby targets.
The Darkness powers are drip-fed to you over the course of the game. You begin with just one, Creeping Dark, which lets you sneak up on enemies and tear their faces off. Very cool it is too as you'll need to take a stealthy approach to a lot of the game. Later levels give you new powers such as a massive tentacle arm that can smash things out of your way, some demon hunting guns and a shield for protection.
Considering these powers are what the game is all about we would have liked to see more and seen them implemented in such a way that requires you to use them all the time.
As a bonus you also get to control four different types of impish minions. It might sound like Overlord but it isn't, we found those minions more useful. These ones are helpful from time to time, like for opening doors you can't get to and taking out the odd enemy when you're overcome, but you don't generally need them in the single-player game. You hit X to send them to where you want but they have trouble getting up stairs and going where you want. They also die a lot too if there's a strong source of light near by.
That said, the minions and other shape shifting beasts you can control are more useful in the multiplayer modes that come with the game. You can hop online and shoot your mates using the dark powers seen in the single-player game. We've jumped into a few games and the lag was terrible so we'll have to reserve judgement for the time being.
The Darkness is all about the story and that's what you'll be buying this for. It does a great job of pulling you in to what's going on in the world. It's not often a game genuinely shocks you when something major happens but this will. There's an awesome twist half-way though that completely turns the game on its head. We're dying to tell you about it, but we won't. You need to see it for yourself.